Iberville would benefit from Amendment #2; nine others on ballot

Deidre Cruse, Governmental Reporter

Local and state police jury association officials are urging voters to back proposed constitutional amendment No. 2 to give Iberville and at least 27 other parishes would get a larger share of state severance taxes. The proposed amendment is one of 10 on Tuesday's general election ballot.

“There are no new taxes,” said state Rep. Karen St. Germain, who co-authored the amendment. “It's just reallocating the taxes back to the parishes from where they came.”

“This is not a new tax, it is a redistribution of an existing tax,” Roland Dartez, executive director of the Louisiana Police Jury told the Iberville Parish Council, which last week adopted a resolution supporting the amendment.

Voters statewide rejected a similar amendment in 2008 because it appeared to propose a new levy, St. Germain said.

Sharing the state severance tax, which dates to the 1921 Constitution, is intended to help parishes with wear and tear on roads and bridges during the extraction of the resources, Dartez said.

“Natural resources and mineral production from the oil and gas industry take a huge toll on our local infrastructure,” the police jury official said.

The current Constitution requires the state to give parish governments 20 percent of the severance taxes collected in their jurisdictions on the production of natural resources. The amount of money distributed has been capped at $850,000 a year per parish, adjusted for inflation.

According to Dartez, the 2009 cap was a maximum $907,000 per parish, only five percent of the allowable, giving parishes a total of $32 million of the $670 million collected on the tax. The full 20 percent would have amounted to $340 million.

The proposed amendment would raise the current cap to $1.85 million in 2012 and to $2.85 million in 2013. The ceiling would rise in subsequent years based on the Consumer Price Index. Half the money will have to be used for local road and bridge projects.

The amendment also would provide for a portion of severance taxes collected on state lands to be spent in the Atchafalaya Basin in parishes like Iberville touched by the great freshwater swamp. The funds would be spent according to the Atchafalaya Basin Master Plan, which includes a number of projects for Iberville Parish this year; additional ones have been proposed for next year.

“There are no new taxes,” St. Germain said “This is just reallocating the taxes back to the parishes where they came from.”

According to the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR), opponents of the amendment “question the need for the state to give up more revenue to benefit parishes that already receive other revenue from severance operations, like jobs and sales taxes. If mineral resources are considered assets of the state as a whole, then the dedication prevents the state from using its revenue where most needed, they argue.”